Another 10 Basic writing tips

In the previous article I talked about the importance of having a clear structure to base your writing on, today I want to elaborate more on writing techniques and tips. I will continue writing about how to write better in Japanese as an ongoing series starting from 10 Basic writing tips

The first tip today is:

 

1- Always keep the subject in mind:

You definitely want to write in a comprehensible and easy-to-understand way, and the typical way not to achieve this is when you omit or forget the subject. The subject can be spotted in these patterns 「○○が」「○○は」「○○も」, and you can spot the predicate in these patterns 「○○です」「○○しました」「○○でした」

So when you are writing do you always keep the subject in mind? Do you always think about who is doing that action or who you are describing? In Japanese there are so many cases where subjects get omitted, however sometimes omitting the subject will make it difficult to understand what you’re trying to say. the next example,「この企画に賛成です」has no subject, however, we can guess that it’s the person who wrote this sentence. So even when the subject 私は is not explicit we can somehow understand the gist of the sentence.

however, what do you think of this sentence 「この企画に賛成されています」the subject is again omitted. We know that 「私は賛成されています」is wrong , so it’s not the opinion of the writer, it’s someone else’s opinion, but we don’t know who. The writer boss? His colleague? His client? We wouldn’t know. Thus, I strongly recommend that you don’t omit the subject. Or at least omit it only after stating it clearly once in the first sentences.

 

2- Make sure the subject and predicate agree

In simple sentences like 「私はお客様に商品見本を届けました」the subject and predicate will agree with no problem. However, with more complicated sentences like

「昨日、私がお客様のところへ届けた商品見本は、お客様が頼んだのはこれじゃないと言いました」

You feel that something is off about this sentence, don’t you? It is strange.

Let’s try to spot the subject first, it could be 「私が」or「商品見本は」or「お客様が」and the subject of the sentence would be「商品見本は」, while the predicate is 「言いました」, but it’s not possible for the product sample to speak. That’s what happens when the subject and the predicate don’t agree. So to make them agree we think of a predicate that is applicable to the subject, in this case 「違っていました」if we rewrite it with the new predicate we get

「昨日、私がお客様のところへ届けた商品見本は、お客様が頼まれたものとは違っていました」

This is also one of the reason it is important to read aloud what you wrote before showing it to somebody else, as it gives you a chance to spot sentences that sounds weird. Or you can avoid writing long sentences in the first place and go for simpler sentences to be in the safe side.

 

3- Mind the Gobi 語尾

Even in business writing you should avoid dull monotonic writing. One of the reasons to make your writing monotonic is using the same Gobi (the ending of the sentence, literally word tails) over and over again.

The next example is a self-introduction:

「私は○○株式会社の○○です。奈良県出身です。現在住んでいるのは埼玉県です。所属部署はマーケティング部です。私が主に担当しているのはメールマーケティングです」you can see that using the same Gobi (です) 5 times consecutively made it monotonic.

I always make sure not to use the same Gobi more than once, in worst cases twice. In order to do this I keep in mind the following 3 points:

  • Use 体言止め (Ending the sentence in a noun or noun phrase)
  • Change the subject and the predicate will follow
  • If you have 2 short sentences, combine them in a longer one

Now let’s try to apply this on the 自己紹介example above:

「私は○○株式会社の○○です。

出身は奈良県ですが、(changed the subjects and connected the following sentence)

現在住んでいるのは埼玉県。(used 言体止め)

所属部署はマーケティング部で、(connected the following sentence)

主にメールマーケティングを担当しています。」(changed the subject, and the predicate accordingly)

Do you see the difference? it’s more lively now and doesn’t feel monotonic. that leads us to the next point.

 

4- Add liveliness to your writing with 倒置法・ 言体止め

There are ways to make your writing more lively, I already introduced 言体止め (ending the sentence with a noun) but there are one more technique called 倒置法 (とうちほう ) (changing the order of words in a sentence), just by using these 2 simple techniques you can make your writing far more lively and vibrant. Just keep in mind that over using 言体止め and ending all your sentences in nouns will make it annoying to read, thus you’d better avoid overusing it.

Look at the following example:

あなたの悩みをズバリ解決します。→あなたの悩みをズバリ解決!

彼と会ったのは、先週の日曜日でした。→彼と会ったのは、先週の日曜日

Next we have an example of 倒置法:

彼はどこへ行ったのですか?→どこへ行ったのですか。彼は?

さあ、海へ行きましょう。→さあ、行きましょう。海へ。

私もその本を読んでみたいですね。→私も読んでみたいですね。その本。

However this might be a bit too extreme for business writing. But that’s not the only way to use 倒置法. You can use it to emphasize certain parts in the sentence. Here is an example:

昨日、私は田中さんと渋谷で会いました。

私が田中さんと渋谷で会ったのは、昨日です。

昨日、私が田中さんと会ったのは、渋谷です。

昨日、私が渋谷で会ったのは、田中さんです。

The point is you put whatever you want to emphasize at the end of the sentence. I think this is one of the coolest features of Japanese, although it might be confusing for beginners.

 

5- Pay attention to 「の」「も」「に」

Do you write sentences like 「昨日イベント参加者反響は、予想以上よかったです」?

While this sentence has nothing grammatically wrong in particular, but the consecutive usage of the possessive particleのmakes it sound stupid. So you should keep in mind not to consecutively use particles more than 2 times. Luckily there are ways to avoid this tedious repetition. here are some ways to rephrase the above sentence:

「昨日イベント参加者反響は、予想以上よかったです」

「昨日行ったイベント参加者反響は、予想以上よかったです」

「昨日イベントに参加してくれた人反響は、予想以上よかったです」

「昨日イベントは、予想以上反響でした」

I think you can see the difference.

There are other particles that you also need to avoid using consecutively, likeもandに. Look at the following sentence:

「私もテニスもします」you need to change one of them to another particle, but it will depend on the meaning, so if you mean that “I play tennis too(as you do)”, you should change the second も

「(あなたと同じように)私テニスします」

But if you mean “(not only golf) I play tennis too” then you should change the first も

「(ゴルフだけではなく)私はテニスもします」

On the other hand, the particleにis often overused in other ways like in the following sentence:

「お客様のところ行く前、打ち合わせをしましょう」

In cases like this you can change にintoへ

「お客様のところ行く前、打ち合わせをしましょう」

Another case where you need to pay attention toにis like in this sentence

「計画通り道路面した土地を確保できた」

you can drop the excess particle altogether, and you get

「計画通り道路面した土地を確保できた」

 

6- Answer the eternal question はorが

Those 2 particles are mainly used to mark the subject or topic as some textbooks explain, but I will not try to explain the difference between the two, there are a lot of theories and explanation for this already, and it’s beyond the scope of this article anyway. Instead, I will introduce 2 simple guidelines to help you decide which one to use.

  • Use が to emphasize the subject

Instead of saying「彼は私にこう言いました」by using が 「彼が私にこう言いました」this implies that among others the one who said this to me was him.

If you are thinking of the questions “what book is good? What store is good?” as context, You can phrase the following sentences like so:

この本が役に立ちます」「このお店がおススメです」

  • When adding new information you useがfor the first time and はfor the rest

For example, 「前日、タレントの○○さんが、当社にやってきました。○○さんは、当社のテレビCMに出演されていて、~~」the fact that ○○さんcame to our company is a new information, so がis used.

Another point you need to be careful with is the overuse of がandは, for instance in the following sentenceがis used 4 times and that makes it difficult to understand.

「当社が開発した新商品発売されたの㋄5日だと報道されました、実際は~~」but if we rewrite it like so:

「当社の開発した新商品発売されたの㋄5日だと報道されました、実際は~~」it becomes far more easier to understand, doesn’t it?

Here is another example for the excessive use ofは:

「私昨日風邪で寝ていました」

We can rewrite it to be 「私昨日、風で寝ていました」we avoid the confusion by omitting the particle.

The more you write and read, you will gain experience and it will get a lot easier with time.

 

7- Utilize conjunctions to your advantage

Some might think that using conjunction in writing might sound like a thesis or a manual (I have received such comments about my writing), however, I think that using conjunctions is good, especially in business writing. It is like the navigator of a ship. When I see 「しかし」「ところが」「けれども」「だが」 I know that the following content is the opposite of what was said before. When I see 「ところで」「さて」「それでは」I know that the topic is going to change. When I see 「すなわち」「ようするに」「つまり」I know that it’s about the same content just in other words. When I see 「なぜなら」「というのは」I know that it is about reasons.

So, When you utilize conjunctions correctly it acts as a guide to enhance the readability of your writing.

 

8- Master 句読点

句読点refers to 句点(くてん)(。)and 読点(とうてん)(、)and I know many people who don’t know when to use them.

The 句点is fairly simple. You put it at the end of a complete sentence, however, you don’t need to use it after an exclamation point or a question mark, So「分かりましたでしょうか?。」is weird and wrong.

Also the sentence inside brackets doesn’t need a句点, but if it’s an annotation you should add one after the brackets.

As for読点it is a little harder. There are no definite rules, but as a general rule of thumb it’s used to make reading a cramped text easier. I follow 4 rules:

  • After a conjunction しかし、つまり、でも、ところが
  • After a subject 私は、皆さんは、本日は、
  • After stops~~ですが、~~なので、~~したところ、
  • After stops you make when reading aloud ~~は、~~で、

You have to be careful of where you use the 読点 as it can change the meaning. See this example:

※弊社は、8階建ての白い建物の隣のビルになります。

※弊社は、8階建ての、白い建物の隣のビルになります。

In the first sentence the 8 story building is the white building next to the company, and we don’t know how many stories the company building is. However in the second sentence, it can mean that the company building is 8 stories.

Pay attention to these points and you should master the句読点in no time.

 

9- Maintain consistency

Sometimes I read weird sentences like

「休みの日は、本を読んだり、映画を観て過ごしています」

「この商品の特徴は、機能を追加したり、録画予約ができることです」

「この上で飛んだり走らないでください」

Do you know what is wrong with these sentences? Yes, because its form is not consistent 「~たり、~たり」as a rule, if you useたりfor listing you complete the list with it.

So the correct sentences should be

「休みの日は、本を読んだり、映画を観たり過ごしています」

「この商品の特徴は、機能を追加したり、録画予約ができたりすることです」

「この上で飛んだり走ったりしないでください」

You might think that it’s okay as long as you get your message across, but this is not about the particular rule ofたりrather about keeping consistency.

Here is another example:

「移転や名前が変わったときは、弊社までご連絡ください」

Do you know where the problem is?

Yes, you can say「名前が変わった」what you can’t say is「移転が変わった」

These are a few ways in which you can rephrase the sentence correctly:

住所や名前が変わったときは、弊社までご連絡ください」

「移転や名義変更をされたときは、弊社までご連絡ください」

移転したり、名前が変わったりしたときは、弊社までご連絡ください」

Do your best to keep your writings consistent and you’re guaranteed to master writing soon.

 

10- Choose a writing tone and stick to it.

There are several tones in writing Japanese, two of the major tones are「です・ます調」「だ・である調」the first is where the sentences end in (です・ます・でした) and you generally use polite language丁寧語, on the other hand, the second tone is where the sentences end in (だ・である・であった)

Look at the next example:

「先日の商談結果の報告です。

まず結論から言うと、契約は成立しなかった。

理由は、他社の製品が当社のものよりも3割以上安かったからです。

1割程度なら何とかなったと思うのだが、3割では無理でした。

Sentences like this where the tones get mixed, doesn’t leave a good impression to readers, so it’s always better to stick with one tone. This is a report so it’s preferred to use the 「です・ます調」, to rephrase it in a way that keeps the tone consistent we get:

「先日の商談結果の報告です。

まず結論から言うと、契約は成立しませんでした。

理由は、他社の製品が当社のものよりも3割以上安かったからです。

1割程度なら何とかなったと思うのですが、3割では無理でした。

about the part 「1割程度なら何とかなったと思うのですが」 you need to pay attention not only to the sentence ending, but also the connecting points as well to make sure all your sentences in the same tone.

I know a lot of proficient and fluent speakers who unfortunately do this mistake of mixing tones, especially that there are more related conventions to it which I want to discuss in future articles.

 

For now I hope you find this article has helped you write better by now. I love to hear your thoughts, so ask me a question or leave a comment.

And stay tuned for more writing tips.

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